A pizza, a kiss, a grappa and an ice-cream in Bassano

Last week we visited one of our favourite towns, Bassano del Grappa, which is situated in the province of Vicenza and only a twenty minute drive from where we live.  The castle dates from 1150 and was once in the hands of the notorious Ezzelino family.

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We arrived at the start of the lunch break and found a park in the Viale dei Martiri. During the second world war, the mountains behind Bassano were a centre for partisan fighters. They organized raids on the main supply route from Germany to the troops stationed in Italy. In 1944 the Germans took revenge by marching up the mountain behind women, children and elderly local inhabitants. Any partisans discovered or civilians suspected of assisting partisans were killed. There were public hangings and shootings with families forced to watch. On 26th September they hanged 31 young men from the trees in this road, which is why it’s now called Martyrs’ Way. Every tree is shaped like a soldier’s helmet and bears the name of one of the victims and his age.  So tragic!

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We wandered down to the square where the Loggia dates from the early 15th Century; it would have been familiar to the characters in my novel Lady of AsoloBassano del Grappa 2

We had lunch, pizza with mozzarella di bufala and fresh basil at  the Pizzeria Marechiaro in Via Roma.

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Then we set off back across the square and down towards the river, taking a photo of the Lion of St Mark, a reminder that Bassano was under the dominion of the Republic of Venice from 1400-1797.

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Bassano is famous for its handmade ceramics and there are many shops selling items in majolica and porcelain. IMG_0222

We headed for the Ponte degli Alpini which spans the River Brenta.Bassano del Grappa 1

The bridge is first mentioned in the 11th century and has been rebuilt several times due to flooding or destruction during wars. It is still the original design by Palladio from 1569. The bridge is built of wood, making it more resilient to the fast flowing river. There’s a famous mountain song about two lovers who hold hands and give each other a kiss on the bridge, which is also beloved by the Alpini RegimentSul ponte di Bassano; là ci darem la mano; là ci darem la mano; ed un bacin d’amor.  After a brief chorus and a kiss (a group of locals fell about with laughter), we took some pictures of the beautifully coloured palazzi and gardens on the river banks then warmed our cockles in the Grappa Nardini Shop.

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Some think Basano del Grappa takes its name from the liqueur grappa, but it’s actually named after the mountain range behind the town. The name of the liqueur stems from grappolo, meaning a cluster of grapes. Grappa has been produced in Bassano since 1779 when Bortolo Nardini bought a grapperia on the Brenta River bank. The liqueur is made from the by-products of wine making – the seeds, stems and skins. The company is still run by members of the Nardini family.  It’s an acquired taste – a bit like firewater – and high grade alcohol content means you have to take care, but a small amount works wonders for the digestion.

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On our way back to the car we saw this sign: IMG_0221

Eat our ice-cream and you will become more good-looking! How could we resist?

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Val San Liberale

Yesterday, we had lunch at one of our favourite places, the Ristorante Val San Liberale.

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Situated in the Comune of Paderno del Grappa in the province of Treviso, Val San Liberale is reached by turning off the road from Pederobba to Bassano at Fietta then following the Lastego valley as it gently rises to six hundred metres.

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The food at Val San Liberale is simple but delicious and we always get the warmest of welcomes from the owners, Mariangela and Giampietro. I’ve been visiting this osteria since I was a teenager – when the road up was a rough track, the facilities basic, but the food always fantastic. Nowadays, after extensive renovations, the restaurant is well-furbished yet hasn’t lost any of its charm.

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The menu offers enough choice for most tastes and is reasonably priced.

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We usually have the antipasto of sliced prosciuto crudo with sott’aceti

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followed by the mixed grill, freshly prepared by Giampietro, with peas from Borso and zucchini.

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Ristorante Val San Liberale specialises in snails with polenta cooked in various ways, but we chose the toasted polenta without the lumache.

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After lunch we went for a short walk, taking pictures of Monte Grappa which towers over the valley at 1,775 metres. We keep promising ourselves that one day, when we’re fit enough, we’ll attempt the walk up to the top.

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Driving home we stopped to take a photo of the view of the distant colli asolani and the back of our place, which is in the centre of the middle range of hills.

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Caterina Cornaro’s “Barco”

What I love about the setting of my novel, Lady of Asolo, is that I could visit my locations and dream about what they would have been like half a millennium ago. The story is partly set in Caterina Cornaro’s country estate, which was said, at the start of the Sixteenth Century, to be a place worthy of a King of France.

There were originally three enclosed spaces within an area of about 112 acres. The outer space was reserved for hunting and was filled with wildlife.

A model in the Giorgione Museum, Castelfranco, shows the living quarters and gardens before 1509. All that remains today is part of the east wing.

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Here is a painting of what was left of the estate in the 18th Century.

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The whole complex, a cross between a castle and a Venetian villa, was a palace of relaxation and delights where Caterina Cornaro welcomed artists, writers, musicians and poets to her court. She considered the castle in Asolo too cramped and crude for a grand lady like herself and was lucky enough to have the money to build her Barco near the village of Altivole.

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Partly destroyed by a fire during the sack of Asolo by the League of Cambrai in 1509, the Barco fell into neglect over the centuries. It was owned, for a time, by the Province of Treviso and the exterior was open to the public. Now the property of Benetton, when Victor and I went to visit the ruins, we could only stand and stare through the gate, imagining the hunts, parties, jousts and celebrations that took place here more than five hundred years ago.

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